Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Best Gigs: 2011

If you have read this blog over the time that I have been writing it, you will know I do occasionally talk about live music. IT is has been a strange year for gigs in that by October (excluding festivals), I had only been to 5 gigs (and of those 5, 2 of them were Foo Fighters!) Between October and now, I’ve been to 11 gigs. What this blog will do is choose the best of them. This list excludes festival sets as they had a list of their own earlier in the year. Just a reminder of that list (excluding the only gig from the list) the top 5 were:

1) Avantasia – Wacken 2011
2) Muse – Reading 2011
3) Metallica – Sonisphere 2011
4) System Of A Down – Download 2011
5) Slipknot – Sonisphere 2011

How did Pulp not make that top 5? Damn I saw some good music in the summer. Anyway, you can read the whole summer list right by clicking the word that is underlined at the end of this sentence. The following is a list of gigs that are honourable mentions in date order of gigs that did not make the cut with a blurb from how I reviewed them, assuming that I did.

Foo Fighters (NME Big Gig) – Wembley Arena 25/02/2011 – “Wow! They are an immense live band. Everything about this gig was almost perfect. Dave Grohl is definitely one of the best front men I’ve ever seen live and Foo Fighters are now one of the best bands I’ve seen live.” – I should stress this is only here because the other time I saw Foo Fighters maybe in the top 5. Maybe.
Skindred – Wedgewood Rooms 27/04/2011 – “The room exploded as Skindred took to the stage. Seeing the way Benji Webbe can hold a crowd of any size in his hands is phenomenal. During a song towards the end of the set, the band paused with Benji just stood at the front. Without gesture, the crowd went nuts, chanting Skindred until the song kicked back in. I was left in no doubt though that Skindred are an amazing live band, regardless of setting (be it main stage at Sonisphere or in the 400 capacity Wedgewood Rooms). They are a band that, if you like their music, you need to see them live.”
Ginger Wildheart (Acoustic) – Talking Heads 07/05/2011 – “I really did not know what to expect from this Ginger gig. All I knew was it would be a mix of Wildhearts, solo material and some surprises. The opening song was Geordie in Wonderland which was superb. In a world without The Wildhearts on the touring circuit, it is good to see Ginger still touring and performing gigs as good as this one was.”
Evile – Talking Heads 13/10/2011 – “The gig was superb. Evile were on top form and the new album sounds really good live. They said on stage they were very proud of it and from what I heard, they have every right to be. I hope as they do more shows and more headline tours, they play longer sets. They played 11 songs in Southampton and I’m sure they could have played more. Other than that, and them not playing Armoured Assault (again!), I have no complaints.” – As a side note, they would have been in the top 5 if they played Armoured Assault!
Fozzy – Talking Heads 03/11/2011 – “From the off, Fozzy were superb and this remained the case until the last note of Enemy at the end of the gig. It truly was a superb setlist from Fozzy. A superb performance from the band which was met with a superb crowd. At the end of every song, there were loud and prolonged Fozzy chants. Chris Jericho early on in the gig asked if we could come in the trailer with them and come to every gig. Considering how good this gig was, I’d be in favour of that.”
Alter Bridge – M.E.N Arena 24/11/2011 – “Opening with Slip To The Void, they proceeded to play a very strong set list. The band seemed to be genuinely blown away by the response they were getting from the was a cracking gig. Alter Bridge will headline and sell out arenas in their own right soon I think, and they certainly have the ability to perform on the big arena stage.” – When making decisions about the gigs which make the top 5, I try to focus on the headline band. Including Black Stone Cherry would have made this gig scrape in at no.5. As it wasn’t a package tour I can’t include them and thus this gig does not make the top 5.

I would have included Rise Against in that list but for some reason, I didn’t review them. This might have been because I left early in order to get the train home. Anyway, they didn’t make the top 5 but definitely deserve an honourable mention. Honourable mentions get previous words placed next to them. Top 5 bands get new words written as sort of an end of year reflection on why they were the best. Counting down then, Number 5...

5 - An Evening With Dimmu Borgir – Manchester Academy 3 – 25/11/2011

I really didn’t know what to expect from this gig. Not only was it the first black metal headline show I was going to, it was also the first visit I was making to Manchester Academy 3. I’d heard from people that had been there that the room was tiny. It was also interesting as it was just going to be Dimmu Borgir, no support band. I knew Dimmu were a powerhouse live, having seen them twice before at festivals but neither of those two sets came even close to being as good as this gig was. They were splitting the gig into two sets; the first honouring a classic album and the second being a best of. The album that was voted by the fans was “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”. In my review, I wrote that I hoped “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” would win the vote. It has since been drawn to my attention that it wasn’t an option in the vote. Both sets were immense. I had forgotten how good of an album “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” really is. I sometimes find myself getting bored when a band play an album in its entirety (the first time I saw Iron Maiden truth be told) but this did not happen this time. Shagrath declared the evening was a celebration to the 14 year old album, and it was a spectacular one. The second set was immense as it had all the best of the new material with the very best of their back catalogue chosen as well (I guess that’s why they call it a best of huh?) They didn’t play Sympozium but I am coming to the realisation that it’s one of those rare ones a fan would be lucky to hear live. Maybe one day I will be one of the lucky ones. Anyway, their set concluded on The Serpentine Offering and Progenies of the Great Apocalypse which was a stunning way to close a superb gig. The best way to sum up why this gig was so good is that on the way back to the hotel, regardless of the conversation; the gig would be discussed using words like “wow”, “so good”, “immense” and many other superlatives. The question which pops up occasionally in my mind is how can Dimmu Borgir top that on an open-air stage at Wacken? With a full orchestra, they stand a good chance but it will be very tough.

4 – Manic Street Preachers – O2 Arena – 17/12/2011

Manic Street Preachers were just amazing on this wet night in London. Looking back on it, I am still so impressed that not only did they manage to play all 38 of their singles, but not once did the gig become boring. With this being a gig where they played all their singles, it was the perfect one for me to be at as they played everything of theirs I wanted to hear. The stage show was fairly understated in that it had some Christmassy stuff on stage. The video screen behind the band though was very impressive. It played video throughout the entire gig, either showing the band as they played or showing retro clips of music videos or previous performances. The atmosphere out in the crowd was something special. Aside from one person in front of me who looked bored and fell in and out of sleep, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Almost every song was met with a large cheer and there was a lot of bouncing, dancing, singing etc. The good vibe from the crowd was matched by the band. The onstage chemistry between them all is superb, but at times James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire appear to be a comedy double act. Hey, they’d be successful if that’s what they chose to do with their 2 years away from being the Manics. Performance wise they were outstanding. I was told they were a good live act and that is the case. I’m always impressed when a band is able to get an entire venue singing along to a song, even more so when the venue is as big as the O2 Arena is. The final song of the night was “A Design For Life” and that is exactly what happened. It wasn’t unexpected as that song is their biggest song, but it was still immense to be part of that 18k sing along. Manics were fantastic; the crowd was superb and the fact they played all 38 singles in one night is why this gig is in the top 5. They said “see you in 2 years” and I imagine they will see me then.

3 – Ginger Wildheart – Relentless Garage – 18/12/2011

I saw Ginger the week before this gig in Southampton and I thought it was awesome. I only originally went to this gig because I was in London and it seemed foolish to miss another good Ginger gig. Not only was this a good Ginger gig, it was immense. Before the shows I was going to see, I had misgivings about the set list I was seeing posted online as there were songs I wasn’t overly familiar with in favour of songs that I love. After Southampton I listened more and more to these songs and they became favourites. Going into the London gig, I was a lot more familiar with the songs that would be played and loved most of them. I still have my favourite Wildhearts songs but there is no crime in having lots of favourites...right? Anyway, everything about the London gig was better than Southampton if I’m perfectly honest. Other than the sound quality, the most noticeable difference was the crowd. That could be because it was bigger to be fair, I’ll never be sure. In all fairness, it could just have been “this is the last night of the tour, let’s go out with a bang” which made it better. One thing which certainly helped to make it better was the encore. The main set had already been incredible. Ginger came out on his own to join in with “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” and invited CJ on stage with him. In a previous review (which I quoted above), I said without The Wildhearts on the touring circuit, seeing Ginger perform awesome gigs makes up for it. So to see a member two members of the last Wildhearts line-up on stage together was a special moment for me. In Southampton, we got Vernix in the encore. Due to this song being on Chutzpah Jnr, and me not being able to find that album anywhere, I wasn’t able to familiarise myself with that one. It didn’t matter as Ginger/CJ et al didn’t play it. In its place they did play TV Tan and My Baby Is A Headfuck. Headfuck is without doubt one of my favourite Wildhearts songs so on top of a set list containing lots of songs I now love, one of my all time favourites was played, with another Wildheart on stage! For fear of repeating my original review, I’ll call this bit quits but this was the last gig Ginger is doing until probably the birthday bash next year (unless plans change) and what a gig to go out on.

2 – Volbeat – HMV Forum – 29/10/2011

They were the second best band for me on the Sunday of Sonisphere 2011. The headline show got announced and even though it wouldn’t be at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, it was happening and that was the main thing. I know I said earlier that I wasn’t taking support into account for a gig making the top 5, but Black Spiders were such a good choice to support Volbeat. This gig was already in the top 5 regardless of the support, but Black Spiders certainly helped nudge it towards the head of the pile. If Black Spiders nudged it towards the top, Volbeat grabbed it and threw it towards the top by being such a fantastic live band. It was so much better than Sonisphere which before the gig I would have said would be damn near impossible. The set list was almost perfect with it being another one of those situations where I didn’t want anything to be cut, but rather they just add more stuff. One thing which was really cool was that we got Barney Greenway from Napalm Death guest on Evelyn. It was cool because it was the first time the song had been performed live with Barney, who did it in studio with Volbeat. Other vocalists had sung it with Volbeat, but we got the guy who did it originally. Honestly I think the set list for London was the best set list of the tour which really helped make this a superb gig. Much like Dimmu Borgir, they are playing Wacken next year in a major slot. It could well be that both bands appear again in best bands of the summer 2012 list, if such a list exists. Wacken is Volbeat’s only 2012 show in Europe, which means it could top this London gig. Whether it will or not is yet to be seen, but it will certainly be a tough task. This would have been the best gig of the year, if it hadn’t been for one band that before this year started, I hadn’t seen once. Now I’ve seen them twice.

1 – Foo Fighters – MK National Bowl – 03/07/2011

How was this the best gig of the year? It had everything and more. You can’t truly believe anyone when they say how good a band is live until you see them yourself. In Feb, I saw Foo Fighters and was blown away by how good they are live. They rocketed close to the top of my list of best live bands that day (FYI, I never intend to list my favourite live bands in order as it changes all the time). This gig was always going to be different to the Wembley gig though. Wembley Arena holds 13000 people whereas MK National Bowl holds 65000. I didn’t think this would be possible but Foos just upped their game and were incredible all over again. It isn’t just the fact that they are a tight live act which makes them so good; it’s the fact they can change songs live and it become even better, or even more impressive (the extended outro to Stacked Actors comes to mind). So, the band was stunning. That coupled with an awesome stage show made for one excellent gig. Moving screens on the stage showing different things to suit different songs, sometimes just flashing lights. A run way that ran through the middle of the crowd so Dave Grohl could move about The run way led up to the sound/light desk where there was another little stage so that Dave could play to the people further back. They also played for nearly 2.5 hours, which is commitment to putting on a great gig. The set list was just unbelievably good. A personal highlight for me was the Seasick Steve cover, performed with Seasick Steve and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. To see an original member of Led Zeppelin on stage really was the cherry on the cake for me. All of this added together completely outweighs all the negative stuff which occurred that day (the early start, the nightmare getting out etc) to the point where it’s a footnote which often gets ignored when people ask “how were the Foo Fighters in Milton Keynes?” In most years, they would be the best live band I’d have seen live. Unfortunately, it is not the case for 2011 but they certainly were the best headline gig of 2011. The fireworks at the end of the gig proved to be symbolic, as my best gig of 2011 came to an end.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Review: Ginger Wildheart @ The Garage, London 18/12/11

I went to London for the weekend just gone and was at two gigs, Manic Street Preachers and Ginger Wildheart. This is a review of the Ginger Wildheart gig which took place Sunday 18th December at the Relentless Garage in London.

Well, the bar was set high for this gig. Not only had I been to a gig of the year contender at the O2 Arena the previous evening but I had also seen Ginger in Southampton the previous week (hey, you could read about that here!) I saw the set list before heading to this gig of the birthday show (which took place the night before) which looked immense. I knew full well that we would be getting the standard tour set list for this gig but I couldn’t help but hope for a bit of the magic of the Birthday gig to show up for the last night of the tour. One aspect of the birthday show which made me insanely jealous of anyone who was there was that CJ from The Wildhearts was on stage for a selection of songs. During the gig, I was asked by a friend if someone standing near me was CJ. I then turned and looked and said “nah I don’t think so”. I was looking at the wrong person! Turns out that was CJ standing less than 5ft from me for most of the gig!

The gig was at the Relentless Garage which I had never been to before. I have to say that as a venue I really like it. Not overly enamoured with the drink prices but then I didn’t drink so I can’t be that annoyed. Within seconds of Exit_International taking to the stage, I could tell that this venue had much better sound than the Talking Heads. As a result of this (and me not sitting round the corner by the bar) I could hear them properly and they seem like a really good band. I said last time they were full of riffs and this is still the case. I really enjoyed them. For their last song (I think), they were joined on stage by Ginger. It has to be said that the presence of Ginger on stage made them better. I noticed they came on stage late so I worried what affect this would have on the night’s proceedings. It turned out that actually it had no effect. Hawk Eyes were on not long after them and they were also pretty good. I preferred them in Southampton if I were to be honest. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing considering they had better sound in London but oh well! Ginger joined them for a song as well which was cool to see. Both support bands played with Ginger at the birthday show which sounds like it was pretty cool.

It was at this point of the gig, in-between Hawk Eyes and Ginger that my friend pointed out CJ was no longer in the crowd. I wondered at the time if he had left. My answer would come soon enough! Anyway, this image is the tour set list which had been played at pretty much every gig on this tour. We didn’t get Something Weird (Going On In My Head) in Southampton, but aside from that this is the set list we did get (I Wanna Go and 29x were swapped around as well). As the London date I was at was a date on this tour (rather than the Birthday show), I expected something similar to this.

The tour set list is what we got for the most part and it was excellent. The superior sound quality of the Garage really added to how good Ginger and his band were anyway. Credit needs to be given to Victoria Liedtke for how much energy she bought to the stage throughout the entire gig. I didn’t see her stop jumping or dancing once! Much like in Southampton, Ginger and the guys paid tribute to a very funny internet video during ‘This Revolution Will Be Televised’ by changing the lyrics slightly to incorporate “Fenton” and “Jesus Christ” – very funny! Personal highlights of the main set for me would have to be ‘Suckerpunch’, ‘Mazel Tov Cocktail’ and ‘Cheers’ (since hearing the studio version of The Wildhearts cover of that, I’ve listened to it a lot!) ‘Cheers’ was the last song before the encore and I thought that a noticeable absence from the set list was Vanilla Radio. I assumed at the time this was due to the late running of the gig but this didn’t take anything away from the gig for me as it had been really good.

As the band went off for the encore, the crowd sang ‘Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me’ and Ginger came back out on his own to join in. After thanking everyone that needed to be thanked, Ginger introduced CJ to come out on stage! This was really cool that I was getting to see this, having missed the birthday show. Random Jon Poole and Denzel came back out to join them as well giving us 3/4s of a Wildhearts reunion! The first song they played together was ‘TV Tan’. Quickly following that was ‘My Baby Is A Headfuck’ which was immense. Ginger played this at Sonisphere but it was so much better hearing it in London. Then there was a cool moment as joining Ginger and CJ on stage was Ginger’s son, Jake. They played Vanilla Radio together which made a cool moment even cooler. The final song of the night for me (damn you Sunday trains) was ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ with the touring band and CJ. It was a fantastic rendition of the song with a brief medley of “massive cock and balls” in the middle. I’m not going to claim I know what that was about but it was certainly funny.

This was another excellent gig and capped off a great weekend. Ginger is taking a break from touring next year. As a fan this will be sad, but there could not have been a better way to conclude touring than this evening in London. I will definitely be in the crowd when Ginger tours again and I recommend that if you like Ginger and/or The Wildhearts, you get yourself there as well. This gig makes the decision for gigs of the year harder again. Not that I mind this decision being a hard one as it means reliving some great memories!

Review: Manic Street Preachers @ The O2 Arena

I went to London for the weekend just gone and was at two gigs, Manic Street Preachers and Ginger Wildheart. This is the review of Manic Street Preachers Unique ‘National Treasures’ Christmas Party at the O2 Arena.

Before this gig was announced, I had not seen Manic Street Preachers live. I guess I have had plenty of chances to and just missed them. I guess it only occurred to me earlier this year how much of their material I liked. I remember when their ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ album came out; I was blown away by how good the lead singles off it were. Anyway, over the summer they made appearances at a number of UK festivals (the V Festivals, Isle of Wight and iTunes Festival if memory serves me correctly) and I really wanted to go and see them but financially it was not sensible (I could have made the Saturday at one of the V festival’s when they played but they didn’t realise any additional day tickets for that day). As the summer drew to a close, they were promoted to the list of bands I had to see before I stop going to gigs. I’m pretty sure just after I had promoted them in my mind, they announced this gig.

It was going to be a mammoth task without doubt. Quite a lot of headline bands will play 90 minute sets with some playing 2 hours. Rarely does a band play longer than 2 hours (I’ve seen Paul McCartney, Dream Theater and Bon Jovi play longer but it is still not a frequent occurrence). Now, as I’ve never seen Manics before, I don’t know how long they usually play but I feel fairly safe in saying this gig – playing all 38 of their singles - was a gargantuan and ambitious task. With that in mind, it was impossible to not get more and more excited about this gig coming up as the 17th of December got closer. This not only being the first time I would be seeing Manic Street Preachers, but to see them play all their singles was something I couldn’t wait for. If anything, this has the potential to be the perfect Manic Street Preachers gig to go to as they wouldn’t leave out singles they (or others) don’t like and I wouldn’t be able to say “I loved it but it would have been better if they played...” etc.

The show was due to start at 7.30pm so I went to take my seat around 7. I figured if I waited until later, there could be a rush and I might miss something. I didn’t take into account the band would be late on stage but they were (only by 20 minutes mind so nothing crazy). They took to the stage and kicked off by apologising for being late and played ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ which set the tone for this gig as it was excellent. The strong start to the set continued with ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’, ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and ‘(It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love’. The stage show was very impressive as well. It was made up of Christmassy articles on stage with a big screen behind them, showing either the band performing on stage, classic Manic Street Preachers footage or clips from music videos. From early on in the set and throughout the whole gig, James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire just showed how much chemistry they have – not just by being in a band together but with the in-between song banter. During the first set, the band introduced special guest Gruff Rhys who sang with the band on ‘Let Robeson Sing’. Concluding the first set with ‘Indian Summer’, ‘Stay Beautiful’ and ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, the band left the stage. The first set was great but what made it all the more better was knowing that there was another 19 songs left to be played. It was at this stage that I noticed the young-ish girl in front of me had fallen to sleep. Quite how is beyond me but there we are!

After a short break, it was time for the second set. Starting with ‘Australia’, the first half of the second set contained ‘Found That Soul’, ‘Some Kind Of Nothingness’, ‘You Love Us’ and the Theme from MASH – ‘Suicide Is Painless’. Before introducing the next song, Revol, the band reminisced about Richey Edwards and talked about how he came up with the lyrics for the song:

"We were in Portugal at this festival until about 2am in the morning and Richey peaked too early. He was f**king smashed eating a kiwi fruit and he goes: 'I've got an amazing lyric; it's about group sex in the Kremlin'. I said: 'Sounds like a winner to me', so here we go."

A funny moment followed ‘Roses In The Hospital’. Bradfield was introducing the next song and talked about the next song by saying “I don’t think that anyone here really liked this song!” Bradfield’s view was proved correct on this matter when the reaction to the song was lukewarm. From there though, it was a 6 song salvo of immense songs with ‘Postcards From A Young Man’, ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ (with special guest Nina Persson), ‘Slash ‘n’ Burn’, ‘Tsunami’, the very first single ‘Motown Junk’ and finally ‘A Design For Life’. As the set came to a conclusion there was confetti and fake snow firing all over the place. A strong end to an amazing set which to the bands credit did not flag or get boring at all. A mammoth task completed by one of the best bands to come from Wales, if not the very best. This was the last show Manic Street Preachers are doing in this country for at least two years they said, so what a way for them to go out. They were on superb form throughout the entire 3 hour + gig. The press release from the band before the gig promised us this:

"To celebrate the release of 'National Treasures', the band will play a unique, once in a lifetime Christmas party at the O2 in London on 17th December. The band promise “Glitter, glamour, special guests and a ticker-tape celebration. A never to be repeated one-off visual experience encompassing 21 years of MSP with 38 songs – from 1990’s ‘Motown Junk’ to (but not in order!) 2011’s ‘The Is The Day’. There will be an interval in order to top up on refreshments and like all the best parties, you’ll talk about it for years to come and your friends will wish they’d been there"

It goes without saying, they succeeded. This was truly an unforgettable gig.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Review: Ginger Wildheart @ The Talking Heads, Southampton

The last two times I’ve been to The Talking Heads, I have been very happy with certain drink deals they have been running. For a pub to sell bottles of Fosters Gold and Budweiser for cheap would be impressive. For a gig venue to do it, well that’s just outstanding. I saw no such offers this time but figured I took full advantage of the offers last time (as the hangovers the next day will attest to) so I wasn’t that bothered. Besides, it is not like The Talking Heads charges more than most gig venues charge anyway. Some I’ve been to do charge more but you are paying a premium for drinking in a gig venue. There are only certain times when I will be unhappy with a venues drink prices and that is when they are overly extortionate for no real reason. One example of this was at a club night where it was £4.40 for a bottle of Budweiser. Now, it was my own fault for not choosing to drink the rats piss that is Becks or Stella out of a clubs pump. But I never anticipated that anywhere (outside of London) would charge that. I had one pint at £3.30 which I thought was perfectly reasonable. I then saw a 500ml bottle of Pedigree behind the bar. Pilling pound coins into my hand, I asked how much the drink would cost and was delighted to be told it would be £2.50. Assuming that I go back to the Talking Heads (I’ll address this later); I have found a new drink. Furthermore, it is another reason to support the unofficial study that I am doing that Ale is better than Lager. Lots of field research involved in this study as I’m sure you can appreciate. This really is a major detour to have gone on when discussing a gig. I don’t often give much mention to the venue, especially not the first 300 words. I can’t say anything else about the venue as such (until the end) as nothing has really changed about it. Oddly for Ginger’s gigs, the ticket desk is right at the front door (it was also there in 2010) whereas for every other gig it is by the actual venue entrance. Can’t explain that one, but I don’t think it needs to be explained. Anyway, I think a gig happened so let’s talk about that, eh?

On twitter and formspring, long before the tour started, Ginger was hyping up the support for the tour. The support was made up of two bands; Exit_International and Hawk Eyes. Usually when a support band or bands are announced, I will go out my way to research them (to see whether or not it is worth going in early for). I remember researching both of these bands, and I remember enjoying them. Come gig day though, I couldn’t remember a single note, riff, song - nothing. I was quite annoyed at myself for this but decided I would take a chance and head down early enough to see them both. After all, they wouldn’t be receiving as much praise as they are from Ginger and from other sources if they were both shite. First on was Exit_international. Within the first couple of songs of their set I knew I liked them. I was sat at the bar during their set admittedly, but what I heard I enjoyed. A set packed full of riffs. Remaining at the bar, Hawk Eyes were next on and they were just as good as Exit_International, if not slightly better. Another band packed with riffs. This truly was going to be a good gig. Two support bands opening for Ginger Wildheart, both of whom have a new fan in me. I am going again on Sunday to see Ginger so I will make sure of two things. 1) I will reacquaint myself with both bands before leaving for London on Saturday; and 2) I will not be at the bar while they are playing. After walking through a path which leads to the front of the stage (helpfully), I got near-ish to the front for Ginger.

There are a number of songs from The Wildhearts and Ginger’s solo back catalogue which I absolutely love. I had seen on formspring that there would be songs in the set which had rarely been played live or never played live. As a fan of Ginger’s, I was both happy to see this while being slightly disappointed almost because that surely meant some of my favourite songs would not be played. I saw most of my favourite songs played when The Wildhearts came to Portsmouth in 2009 so it is not something which would have ruined the gig for me. What actually happened was a number of songs which I had rarely listened to became favourites. Inglorious opened the set and it was a superb way to kick off the gig. Other songs that were played included The Hard Way, Splattermania, Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong, Slaughtered Authors and The Wildhearts cover of the Cheers theme. All of these songs have become favourites along with my favourite songs from the set; Vanilla Radio, Suckerpunch, 29x The Pain and I Wanna Go Where The People Go. All in all, it was a superb set performed by an outstandingly tight live machine that makes up Ginger Wildheart & Friends. During one song, and it is to my shame that I can’t remember, Random Jon Poole got the entire crowd to sit down. Having seen Slipknot a couple of times, I figured there would be some “jumpdafuckup” moment, but unless I missed it – there wasn’t one. Oh well. A fantastic set list is one story of this evening. Another story is how surreal certain things were. Ginger tweeted during the day that the crew had found Dragon Soop for sale and had bought some. This was test driven by Ginger on stage (who didn’t approve of the taste). It gets hot in the Talking Heads, especially down by the stage. One person passed out in front of the stage which put a halt on proceedings while the girl, Rebecca, who passed out was attended to. An impromptu song was written on the spot about Rebecca, wishing she was ok. Across the room, someone else then passed out. He was quickly revived and the show went on, until he passed out again! He was taken to sit outside (there is a fire door quite near the stage and helpfully near where this person was). Ginger asked for this door to stay open, and the security guard slammed it shut. I accept there are health and safety rules for venues to adhere to but that seemed a bit of an over-reaction. Another top quality night out courtesy of Ginger.

Another top quality night out in the Talking Heads, but I’m wondering if it will be my last. I had booked two tickets for gigs at the Talking Heads, Alestorm and InMe. I received emails from Ticketweb saying that both gigs had been cancelled and that I was getting a refund. Now, for one to be cancelled, fair enough; that happens and I’m not going to lose sleep over it. For both to be cancelled though; that was peculiar. I did some digging and found out that the tours were going on as normal. Ticketweb had the rest of the tours listed but the Soton dates were nowhere to be found. That made things even stranger so I visited a number of other ticket agencies and found both Soton gigs, not cancelled but moved. So, Ticketweb were refunding me for a cancelled gig which wasn’t cancelled at all. The dates were relisted on Ticketweb with the new venue being The Cellar. After a little more digging, I’ve seen that 5 or 6 other gigs have been moved from the Talking Heads to The Cellar (or in one case, the Joiners). Why have these gigs all been moved from the Talking Heads, I found myself wondering. Is it about to be announced that it is closing? I really hope this is not the case as I quite like it. I would be gutted to see it go, but at least I can say all 5 gigs I saw there were excellent, and were capped off by a fantastic Ginger Wildheart gig.

Snow? Just Say No!

Am I alone in not wanting snow?

I’ve seen a lot of people put on Facebook that they want snow. Now, to put this into perspective, when I say a lot, I have 116 friends on there (I don’t horde friends or be under some delusion that people who I used to go to school with are friends) so actually it is not that many people but it certainly seems like a lot. It is Christmas now (well it is in 10 days of this writing) and as a result, people are getting hyped up for snow. I can only assume, and for anyone this does not apply to – please forgive me, that people want it to snow because it looks pretty. I can’t argue that it looks pretty. In fact, this is a personal favourite photo that I am in (and there aren’t many of those).

Even with the opportunity to have another photo like that taken, I really don’t want snow. The actual time period where we have snow is quite fun. Because it is so infrequent, it is amazing watching it snow. Its fun to walk out in the snow and its fun to lark about in it (snowball fights and such). But, that fun is limited to about 37 minutes. After that, you have to deal with the complete arsehole known as ice. Ice in your drink is a good thing. Ice packs on an injured limb are also quite nice. Shit tons of ice all over pavements and roads is not good! The thing is the snow that sets disappears fairly quickly as people are walking out in it. It just makes life miserable once the snow has gone. The amount of times I nearly broke my neck last time it really iced over...well I lost count. I remember one walk to the train station where I almost fell 5 times (someone laughing at me for almost falling stopped paying attention to what they were doing and fell. I don’t believe in karma but that was wonderful).

And then of course, you have the issue of public transport. I fully accept this doesn’t affect any of you driving folk (although y’all have my sympathies with the ice on the road) but it is such a farce that every time we get a big freeze, or we get snowfall, the trains stop running and buses just decide to run whenever they damn well please. That walk I referenced just now took place in early 2010 when I was on my way to my old job at Iceland. It took me nearly an hour to complete a 20min walk, to find out every train was delayed and I would be late for work. I phoned informing them of this and they said “get a bus”. When I explained that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon they informed me that I wouldn’t be in trouble for being late (as it wasn’t my fault) but I would have my pay docked. Cheers! This sort of thing could be avoided if there was no snow!

So to all of you people, who want snow, enjoy it for the time that it is falling. Enjoy it for the 37 minutes of entertainment you (and if it happens, I) will have while its fun. But, I want to hear no bitching about the ice and especially no bitching about how cold it is! You can’t have snow unless it’s really cold! (Unless it is synthetic you would get in a snow machine. Seriously outside of movies, what are they for?)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Hate To Say I Told You So

Over the last few months, the Euro has been focused on a lot by the media and various commentators. It would appear that the currency is under intense, near breaking-point pressure at the moment. Who would have thought that a single currency for 17 very different countries, with very different sized economies, wouldn’t be perfect? It has received a great deal of attention as a recent treaty amendment was proposed by the European Union (EU), and Britain said no to it. It has caused problems, apparently both domestically and internationally. I’d like to have a discussion about some of the events that have taken place and their impact. I should stress this early on – I am a Euro-sceptic so this blog will be biased and it will be biased that way. If that bothers you, there is a little cross in the corner of this window; it might be worth using it. There is a bit of storytelling which I have to dispense with until dealing with my opinion. I have tried to remember it all correctly but if I have made a mistake, then I apologise.

Ok so there has been a great deal of trouble in the Eurozone (the name for the countries inside the EU that have the Euro as their currency) as members of it have run into financial trouble. Greece has been the one which most people have been talking about. They have a relatively small economy anyway and yet they did not control their spending whatsoever (or from what I hear have legislation insisting taxes are paid...) and this, somewhat unsurprisingly, has caught up with them. Other countries in the Eurozone that are in trouble are Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. There may be others but I don’t recall them now. This is causing massive problems for the countries with stable (or what passes as stable in the current market) economies as they are having to create rescue packages (bail outs) for these failing countries. What makes me raise an eyebrow is how anyone thought a single currency would work in the first place as merely an economic union and not a more inter-connected political one. What I mean by this is I am surprised that the countries that are in the Eurozone don’t all have to have the same tax rules, or at the very least have their budgets regulated and approved by the EU. What I am saying it is seemed to me like a flawed idea from the off and it has now shown that is in fact a flawed idea. So a massive rescue package was being debated for a long time by the Eurozone leaders to try and save Greece and finally it was approved (even if it did mean a government change in Greece!). Now, if my knowledge on the subject is right, once this was agreed, there were discussions on increasing the bailout fund for all of the Eurozone which was approved. What followed then was the proposal of a new Treaty of Fiscal Union (which I believe is an alteration to a pre-existing Treaty but I’m not 100% on that). The Treaty was debated by all the EU member states as a way to save the Euro, fronted by Merkel and Sarkozy (Merkozy). David Cameron said he was going to this summit to talk to the other EU leaders with a number of safeguards he wanted for Britain. When it transpired that these safeguards were completely unacceptable for Merkozy, Cameron did not sign the new proposed Treaty. I believe I have got the facts right there but I have tried to be fairly simplistic with this as going into much more detail would be even more storytelling and would be a waste of everyone’s time.

The proposal that was laid out by Merkozy and the Eurozone would have ended up costing the City of London £26bn a year I believe. That is quite a significant amount of money to just sign away (I guess this is one of the reasons why I don’t vote Labour). I don’t blame Cameron at all for trying to safeguard British interests when it comes to Europe. In fact, I fully support Cameron’s actions here by not signing the treaty change agreement. For so many years, British interests have just been signed away. We had 13 years of a pro-Europe Labour government who were pretty much prepared to allow Britain to be shafted by Europe. It is a nice change. However it occurs to me that if the shoe was on the other foot, and Britain was proposing that we change something which would severely affect France, them using the veto wouldn’t be so much of an issue. Let’s say, hypothetically unfortunately, that we turned up at the EU and said “we need to significantly alter the Common Agricultural Policy” – do you reckon France would be expected to just agree to it like we were expected to agree to this? I don’t think so somehow. In fact as pointed out in the letters pages of yesterday’s Telegraph - “French governments have vetoed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy – the EU's single largest expense – repeatedly, without attracting the opprobrium they've unleashed on David Cameron.” Slightly hypocritical don’t you think?

As a side note, I say the proposal laid out by Merkozy as it appears to be those two leaders who are dictating over this issue. The famous photo set which has appeared on the front of our papers and probably papers across Europe are those of Sarkozy refusing, or appearing to refuse to shake hands with David Cameron. One thing which has not received nearly as much coverage as I thought it might was that, allegedly, after Cameron refused to just go along with what Merkozy were proposing, that Sarkozy needed to be physically restrained from punching Cameron. Good to know that is how things work in the EU. Are we on level footing with France and Germany in the EU if this sort of behaviour occurs? I think not somehow.

So, Merkozy are really mad at Britain for not going along with this. Best let the bulldog stay in the house tonight as Britain is in the big EU doghouse. Or are we? Boris Johnson pointed out in an article he wrote for a recent edition of the Daily Telegraph that other British Prime Ministers and other Prime Ministers have blocked decisions or suggestions which haven’t been in their respective countries interests to approve. He said: “The reality is that plenty of prime ministers have blocked things that aren’t in this country’s interests – from Thatcher on the EU budget to Tony Blair on the withholding tax. And plenty of other prime ministers have been far more obstreperous than the British – one thinks of Felipe Gonz├ílez of Spain, who used to hold up EU summits until he felt he had got his hands on enough Irish cod and haddock.”

He then said in this column that he suspects he knows the real reason why Merkozy are angry with us at the moment. He argues that they are angry because Britain has been proven right over the Euro. He says we have, for the last twenty years supported the single market idea but doubted that a monetary union would be a good idea. For twenty years, we have been saying the reason it wouldn’t be a good idea and wouldn’t work without a political union, which would not be democratically possible. This strikes me as being completely plausible. Here we are on our little island, as a part of Europe – as one of the major countries within the EU (apparently) but we’re not signed up to the Euro. We’ve said from the beginning that without becoming the United States of Europe, this plan wouldn’t work. Now it hasn’t worked and the French, Germans et al really dislike the fact that we were right. “I hate to say I told you so...!”

Boris also points out one major fact which seems to be being glossed over quite a lot and that is simply that Cameron didn’t actually veto anything. “They blame David Cameron for “vetoing” a new EU treaty, when really he has done no such thing. It is perfectly open to the other EU countries now to go ahead and form their own new fiscal rules. If they want, they can decide to create an economic government of Europe. They may decide that now is the time – even though electorates are already feeling alienated from the political process – to hand sensitive decisions on tax and spending to unelected bureaucrats. It strikes me that this would be an amazingly dangerous thing to do, since the peoples of this Supra National and Fiscal Union (Snafu) would rapidly discover that they could no longer remove their government from office. I doubt very much that it would work, since there seems no particular reason why national governments should respect a collection of new “binding” rules any more than they respected the “binding” rules of Maastricht – not unless there is some secret proposal to enforce them by violence with a Euro-army”. So, we haven’t blocked the EU from doing anything. The members of the Eurozone and members of the EU outside the zone can sign up to any agreement they want to. All Cameron did was refuse to sign Britain up for it.

One comment that has been said repeatedly is that Britain is now cut off, isolated and marginalised from Europe (mostly by the BBC and Labour that. Odd – wouldn’t expect to see a connection there....). We are in a group of one inside the EU. It remains to be seen whether or not this is actually the case or not. One thought which does occur to me though is that when Britain was exited from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism back in 1992 (after ‘Black Wednesday’), the economy started to grow again and continued to grow and grow. In fact it continued to grow until this happened

Anyway, one interesting thing to come out of this decision by David Cameron is that it would appear there is a nice split to deal with now in the coalition government between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. Well, this is certainly what the media was attempting to portray anyway. Just looking at the headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking that the coalition was about to split up. This is not the case at all. Cameron faced parliament on Monday to justify his decision to not sign up to the treaty change and noticeably, Nick Clegg (the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats) was not present. Now, it is fairly obvious why he wasn’t present and that is because he wanted to try and show everyone just how upset at Cameron he was. Despite the fact it has been widely reported that before Cameron went to the EU summit, Clegg agreed to the bargaining position of Britain. He agreed to it, yet it very unhappy about it. He justified his decision to stay away from parliament as he didn’t wish to be a distraction; instead he ended up looking cowardly. If you need proof that the coalition isn’t about to split, it can be seen by looking back at parliament on Monday during Cameron’s statement. Instead of slamming Cameron, all the Lib Dems (including Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Lib Dem leader) wanted was a reassurance that we wouldn’t be leaving the EU and we would still be at the centre of all decision making. Even if Cameron had turned around to his Lib Dem coalition partners and said “actually, I’m going to tell the EU where they can shove it” – I can’t see the Lib Dems breaking up the coalition. Some may resign their government posts but I just don’t see them ending the coalition because that would end in a general election, they would undoubtedly get smashed. Anyway, they got their reassurances that we wouldn’t be leaving Europe. My question is though, should we consider going?

I’m not going to reopen the whole debate on Britain’s EU membership now. What I am going to do is focus on the events of the last few days. What has happened basically is we have seen the Eurozone develop into an in-group, a clique if you will, inside the EU. As Merkozy are the leaders of the two biggest countries inside the Eurozone, they are running the show. Because they are essentially running the Eurozone, it almost seems like they think they are running the EU and that everyone should just agree with what they say and what they propose. This would explain their reaction when Cameron said that Britain would not sign up for the proposals Merkozy made. Now, as I’ve discussed, I am in agreement with Boris on the fact they are not mad at us for saying no to the Treaty but they were already mad at us for being right over the Euro. This was made apparent when Sarkozy told Cameron to “shut up” when it came to advising the Eurozone about what to do. Will we be marginalised in Europe because of this? It is hard to say. What is the case though is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to work with these people and now it might be time to consider picking up our ball from Brussels and bringing it home. These people don’t want to work with us and are looking to cause us problems at all times? If that is the case then we should go. Clegg said the decision we made could jeopardise jobs and this is always the argument which is trotted out when the idea of leaving Europe comes up. Along with the argument about trading. On the jobs front, there may be some job loss following out departure from Europe. But the people that are doing the important jobs will no longer be in the job because of the EU, they will be civil servants because the country needs them. On the trading front, I would be amazed if the EU refused point blank to trade with us if we left. But even if they did, there are other places we can trade with. It would be foolish if we left to not explore further trade options with China and the USA. We are not dependant on the EU. I genuinely believe they need us more than we need them. With the goings-on of the last few weeks, I believe we should seriously consider calling the referendum and asking the British voting public “do you believe Britain should remain a member of the European Union?” Based on the opinion polls following Cameron’s decision, I feel the country would mostly agree with me, it is time to go.